Biden and Xi are to meet next week. There is no detail too small to sweat

by Chloe Baker
Biden-Xi Meeting Diplomacy

As President Joe Biden prepares for a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday, the intricacies of their encounter will be meticulously scrutinized. The minutiae, from their greeting to dining arrangements and seating, will be under intense focus. Senior administration officials describe the protocol as “pretty intense,” highlighting the importance of every detail in such high-level meetings.

In diplomatic encounters, especially between leaders of nations like the U.S. and China, each gesture and word can significantly impact global dynamics. The Chinese are particularly sensitive to diplomatic etiquette, and with the differing interests of Washington and Beijing, even minor aspects may carry substantial significance.

Bonny Lin, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, anticipates thorough planning for the meeting’s choreography, including entry sequences and photo opportunities.

The meeting, set to occur during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, is shrouded in secrecy, with both China and the White House being vague about the specifics, only mentioning it will be in the Bay Area. This secrecy adds pressure as both parties negotiate over various logistical aspects, from meeting duration to the order of entry and the setting of the talks.

The meeting aims to facilitate in-depth discussions on various topics in different sessions, reminiscent of Biden’s extended meeting with Xi before the previous year’s G-20 summit in Bali. This encounter marks Xi’s first U.S. visit in six years and his first to San Francisco since his time as a provincial Communist Party secretary.

Victor Cha, a former White House official, notes that organizing meetings at APEC venues, while easier than in formal settings, still presents logistical challenges. He mentions China’s expectations for high-level treatment during U.S. visits, a demand politically challenging to meet.

Historical meetings, like Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 and Obama and Xi’s tie-less meeting in 2013, underscore the symbolic weight of even informal settings. Trump and Xi’s dinner at Mar-a-Lago in 2017, featuring “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake,” further illustrates this point.

Bonnie Glaser from the German Marshall Fund suggests that China likely sought a venue separate from the APEC site for a longer meeting. The location may resemble Sunnylands rather than the tense 2021 Anchorage talks. Even weather forecasts and on-site floral arrangements could symbolize bilateral relations, given the cultural significance of flowers like plum blossoms and lotuses in Chinese culture.

Ryan Hass from the Brookings Institute anticipates that China will seek to project a dignified and respectful reception for Xi, emphasizing personal interactions beyond formalities.

Previous U.S.-China encounters have varied, from Nixon’s well-documented shark fin banquet to Obama’s security precautions in 2009. Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush’s visits also highlighted different facets of U.S.-China relations, including human rights.

During a 2011 White House event, Sasha Obama, then studying Mandarin, practiced a few phrases with Chinese President Hu Jintao, while Michelle Obama’s 2014 China visit, featuring cultural exchanges, was also noted for its formality.

Colleen Long of Big Big News contributed to this report.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Biden-Xi Meeting Diplomacy

What are the key aspects of the upcoming Biden-Xi meeting?

The Biden-Xi meeting is characterized by intense diplomatic protocols and scrutiny of minor details, with a focus on cultural nuances and the potential impact on U.S.-China relations. The meeting will involve careful planning of interactions, including entry sequences and photo opportunities, and will take place during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco.

How does the venue of the meeting impact its dynamics?

The venue, being in San Francisco during the APEC summit, adds a layer of complexity. It necessitates negotiations over logistical aspects such as meeting duration, entry order, and setting. The choice of venue, away from formal settings like the White House, may also reflect political considerations and China’s expectations for high-level treatment.

What historical precedents influence the Biden-Xi meeting?

Previous U.S.-China leader meetings, such as Nixon’s 1972 visit, Obama and Xi’s informal 2013 meeting, and Trump and Xi’s 2017 Mar-a-Lago dinner, illustrate the importance of informal settings and symbolic gestures. These historical encounters show how both formal and informal elements can significantly impact diplomatic relations.

What cultural factors play a role in the Biden-Xi meeting?

Cultural factors, especially from the Chinese perspective, are crucial. This includes the symbolic meaning of flowers, the arrangement of meeting spaces, and the importance of personal interactions and gestures of respect. These elements are expected to be carefully considered to ensure the meeting aligns with diplomatic expectations and cultural sensitivities.

More about Biden-Xi Meeting Diplomacy

  • U.S.-China Diplomatic Etiquette
  • Historical U.S.-China Summits
  • Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit
  • Cultural Nuances in International Diplomacy
  • Biden’s Foreign Policy Approach
  • Xi Jinping’s Diplomatic Strategies
  • Significance of Meeting Venues in Diplomacy
  • Symbolism in U.S.-China Relations

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Greg Peters November 11, 2023 - 10:01 am

It’s amazing how much planning is needed just for a simple meeting, politics is really something else…

Mike Johnson November 11, 2023 - 11:25 am

wow, didnt realize how much goes into these meetings, like every little thing matters, it’s crazy!

David Smith November 11, 2023 - 4:11 pm

Great article, but some of the historical references seem a bit off? like was Obama and Xi’s meeting really that informal?

KarenP November 11, 2023 - 6:17 pm

read this and was like, wow, politics is more about drama than actual policies. Do these leaders ever get to the real issues?

TommyK November 11, 2023 - 7:21 pm

its all about image, especially for the Chinese, they love their symbolism don’t they? those flower choices, bet they spend hours just on that.

Sarah K November 11, 2023 - 8:18 pm

This is so insightful! I never knew flowers could mean so much in diplomacy, it’s all about the details, huh?

Mike_o'Reilly November 12, 2023 - 4:18 am

saw this and thought, its all just for show right? the real talks happen behind closed doors, these formalities are just… formalities.

Emma Lee November 12, 2023 - 4:40 am

interesting read, but i think there’s more to it than just the cultural stuff, what about the real political issues they’ll be discussing?

SarahJohnson1990 November 12, 2023 - 11:42 am

Not sure why the venue is such a secret, security reasons they say? but everyone knows where it is anyway… kind of defeats the purpose?

Jenny Smith November 12, 2023 - 12:27 pm

Interesting piece! really shows how complex these meetings can be, wonder if all the effort in protocol makes a real difference in the discussions?


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